Commandant Gen. Jim Amos is calling for deeper personnel cuts for the Corps. (Marine Corps)
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Marines with India Battery, the artillery attachment for Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fire a 120 mm towed mortar system, called the Expeditionary Fire Support System here, May 17, during Exercise Eager Lion 12. Eager Lion 12 is taking place throughout the month of May and is designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships of more than 19 participating partner nations. This is the second major exercise for the 24th MEU who, along with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, is currently deployed to the U.S Central Command area of operations as a theater security and crisis response force. (Staff Sgt. Robert Fisher / U.S. Marines)
The Marine Corps commandant has called for the service to cut its active-duty force to 174,000 personnel, writing in a piece published Monday that doing so will allow Marines to remain engaged as the U.S.’s premier crisis-response force.
Gen. Jim Amos’ essay was posted on the website Defense One, owned by Atlantic Media. It is the first time he has called for additional cuts to the Corps, which already is in the midst of a manpower drawdown from a wartime high of 202,100 Marines. Those plans call for a force of 182,100 by fall 2016. However, Amos had suggested previously the additional cuts would be necessary, telling reporters in June that the Corps would “probably go down another 8,000” as a result of federally mandated budget cuts.
In his essay, Amos said the decision to reduce the Corps to 174,000 assumes the federally mandated budget cuts known as sequestration will remain in place. The commandant also left open the possibility that the Corps could be slightly larger to account for an increase in embassy security guards, a move mandated by Congress earlier this year.
“Based on the detailed planning of our working group, and in conjunction with independent analysis, we have determined that with sequestered budgets a force design of 174,000 is right sized to allow the Marine Corps to remain America’s crisis response force (note: this does not account for the 1,000 Marine plus up that Congress has directed to our Marine Security Guard Program),” Amos wrote. “This allows us to achieve a high state of readiness, while maintaining forward presence as a part of the Navy-Marine Corps team. Analysis shows that further reductions will incur heightened and, in some scenarios, prohibitive risk to our National Security Strategy, and unacceptable risk to the internal health of our Corps and its families.”
The call for a 174,000-personnel Marine Corps represents an additional concession on the part of the commandant to reduce spending as U.S. officials seek to curb a federal deficit of more than $600 billion. In 2011, he announced a plan to cut the service to 186,800 Marines, saying it was necessary for the service to remain engaged in its missions across the globe. In early 2012, however, the Pentagon announced the service would be chopped to 182,100 Marines, an additional 4,800 personnel.
There’s no guarantee the service will be allowed to keep even 174,000 Marines, however. In similar fashion to when Amos called for a Corps of 186,800 Marines, there is pressure to shrink even more. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in August that the force’s end strength could shrink to “between 150,000 and 175,000” due to sequestration.
The commandant’s new position comes following a review of strategic choices conducted this spring. Courses of action were presented by each the services and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s staff, Amos said in June. He conceded at the time that it was unlikely the Corps would remain at 182,100 Marines if budget cuts remained in place.
“As a result of sequestration, assuming this thing does not change, the Marine Corps is probably going to go down another 8,000,” the commandant said. “That’s significant. We know what it is. We know what kind of units it will be. We know where it will come from across the United States. That’s the reality of it.”
Amos said in June that the additional cuts would affect virtually all components of the service, including headquarters, infantry, logistics, and fixed-wing and rotary aviation. In his piece published Monday, he said the Corps established a working group in February that designed a future force “optimized to live within our likely resource constraints.”
“Ultimately, we would build the best force America was willing to afford,” Amos said of the working group’s orders. “As such, the force we have designed is supportable within a reduced fiscal framework, but assumes greater risk to our national security strategy.”
The piece published Monday made no mention of how the Corps would make the additional cuts to 174,000, or how quickly it would happen. It has been shedding about 5,000 Marines per year as part of current drawdown plans. The commandant has said previously that while he wants to “keep faith” with Marines and not break service contracts, the option was on the table if the service was forced to shrink below 182,100 Marines.